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Loro’s mounted wheelchair assistant puts high tech to work for people with disabilities – TechCrunch

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A person with physical disabilities can’t interact with the world the same way as the able, but there’s no reason we can’t use tech to close that gap. Loro is a device that mounts to a wheelchair and offers its occupant the ability to see and interact with the people and things around them in powerful ways.

Loro’s camera and app work together to let the user see farther, read or translate writing, identify people, gesture with a laser pointer and more. They demonstrated their tech onstage today during Startup Battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin.

Invented by a team of mostly students who gathered at Harvard’s Innovation Lab, Loro began as a simple camera for disabled people to more easily view their surroundings.

“We started this project for our friend Steve,” said Loro co-founder and creative director, Johae Song. A designer like her and others in their friend group, he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS, a degenerative neural disease that paralyzes the muscles of the afflicted. “So we decided to come up with ideas of how to help people with mobility challenges.”

“We started with just the idea of a camera attached to the wheelchair, to give people a panoramic view so they can navigate easily,” explained co-founder David Hojah. “We developed from that idea after talking with mentors and experts; we did a lot of iterations, and came up with the idea to be smarter, and now it’s this platform that can do all these things.”

It’s not simple to design responsibly for a population like ALS sufferers and others with motor problems. The problems they may have in everyday life aren’t necessarily what one would think, nor are the solutions always obvious. So the Loro team determined to consult many sources and expend a great deal of time in simple observation.

“Very basic observation — just sit and watch,” Hojah said. “From that you can get ideas of what people need without even asking them specific questions.”

Others would voice specific concerns without suggesting solutions, such as a flashlight the user can direct through the camera interface.

“People didn’t say, ‘I want a flashlight,’ they said ‘I can’t get around in the dark.’ So we brainstormed and came up with the flashlight,” he said. An obvious solution in some ways, but only through observation and understanding can it be implemented well.

The focus is always on communication and independence, Song said, and users are the ones who determine what gets included.

“We brainstorm together and then go out and user test. We realize some features work, others don’t. We try to just let them play with it and see what features people use the most.”

There are assistive devices for motor-impaired people out there already, Song and Hojah acknowledged, but they’re generally expensive, unwieldy and poorly designed. Hojah’s background is in medical device design, so he knows of what he speaks.

Consequently, Loro has been designed to be as accessible as possible, with a tablet interface that can be navigated using gaze tracking (via a Tobii camera setup) or other inputs like joysticks and sip-and-puff tubes.

The camera can be directed to, for example, look behind the wheelchair so the user can safely back up. Or it can zoom in on a menu that’s difficult to see from the user’s perspective and read the items off. The laser pointer allows a user with no ability to point or gesture to signal in ways we take for granted, such as choosing a pastry from a case. Text to speech is built right in, so users don’t have to use a separate app to speak out loud.

The camera also tracks faces and can recognize them from a personal (though for now, cloud-hosted) database for people who need help tracking those with whom they interact. The best of us can lose a name or fail to place a face — honestly, I wouldn’t mind having a Loro on my shoulder during some of our events.

Right now the team is focused on finalizing the hardware; the app and capabilities are mostly finalized but the enclosure and so on need to be made production-ready. The company itself is very early-stage — they just incorporated a few months ago and worked with $100,000 in pre-seed funding to create the prototype. Next up is doing a seed round to get ready to manufacture.

“The whole team, we’re really passionate about empowering these people to be really independent, not just waiting for help from others,” Hojah said. Their driving force, he made clear, is compassion.

 

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Like pixels to my ears: Asus headset uses mini LEDs to animate earcups

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Asus

Because a gaming headset sits on your head (where you can’t see it), its looks aren’t all that important. But that hasn’t stopped headset makers from blinging out their products. Besides, if you’re on camera livestreaming or talking to your teammates, you might be looking to spice things up with pink cat ears or RGB-infused earcups. The Asus ROG Delta S Animate offers a new, pixel-powered twist to gamers who want to put on a show.

Asus has put its AniMe Matrix custom lighting design system on both of the Delta S Animate’s earcups. Mini LEDs fill the space and light up to depict preset or customized effects selected via Asus’ free Armoury Crate software. An Asus spokesperson told Ars Technica that the ROG Delta S Animate has over 100 mini LEDs per earcup. Until this week, the AniMe Matrix was only available on select Asus Zephyrus gaming laptops. Asus’ decision to continue offering the feature in new PCs—and now in a new category—shows the company is seeing some interest in the concept.

Want ghosts flying across the earcup pixel by pixel before turning into a pumpkin? Why not?

From the patch to your headset.

From the patch to your headset.

Asus

Feeling flirty? A dot matrix heart will convey your feelings to anyone in sight of your side profile.

How romantic.

How romantic.

Asus

You can also program the mini LEDs to react to your voice, with the effect becoming more intense the louder you speak.

The mini LEDs can react to how loud you're speaking.
Enlarge / The mini LEDs can react to how loud you’re speaking.

Asus

This Soundwave feature is one I’ve tried on the Asus ROG Delta S headset, which has RGB LEDs around the earcups’ perimeters. It worked seemlessly there, even if the colors looked a bit faded on my webcam. Hopefully, the tiny LEDs in the Asus’ new headset are bright enough to be visible in various lighting environments (Asus didn’t share a brightness spec).

You can even make your own animation by uploading an image to the software (Asus recommends a white one) and then playing with specifics, like brightness, contrast, and delay times. You can also program the mini LEDs to scroll through words.

Get your message across.
Enlarge / Get your message across.

Asus

A dedicated knob on one of the earcups lets you turn the animations on and off, and you can also control volume and toggle the microphone with on-ear controls.

Asus ROG Zephyrus G14.
Enlarge / Asus ROG Zephyrus G14.

The headset weighs 0.68 lbs, and the D-shaped earcups are lined with your choice: leather or a combination of leather and mesh fabric.

Asus seems to have paid attention to audio quality as well, carrying over the specs of its impressive Delta S headphones. The new headset’s 50 mm neodymium drivers are standard among modern gaming headsets, but the cans’ frequency response is higher than the typical 20 – 20,000 Hz, peaking at 40,000 Hz. An impedance of 32 ohms is also a smidgen higher than the 30 ohms we often see in gaming headsets.

The upcoming peripheral embraces USB-C for future-proofing and USB-A for versatility. It also supports Hi-Res music with a Hi-Fi ESS 9821 Quad-DAC and integrated Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) renderer.

If you want to add some flair to your cranium, this headset could be a unique way to do it. Asus said the ROG Delta S Animate will be available in mid-to-late December for $250.

Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

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Australia also wants Google to unbundle search from Android

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Enlarge / Let’s see, you landed on my “Google Ads” space, and with three houses… that will be $1,400.

Ron Amadeo / Hasbro

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is the latest government regulatory body to take issue with how Google does business. As Reuters reports, the ACCC wants Google to show a “choice screen” to Android users, allowing them to pick a default search engine other than Google Search. It also wants to limit Google’s ability to pay Apple and other vendors to be the default search engine on other platforms.

ACCC Chair Rod Sims explained the commission’s reasoning in a statement:

We are concerned that Google’s dominance and its ability to use its financial resources to fund arrangements to be the default search engine on many devices and other means through which consumers access search, such as browsers, is harming competition and consumers. Google pays billions of dollars each year for these placements, which illustrates how being the default search engine is extremely valuable to Google’s business model.

Market research firm Kantar says Android has a 60 percent share of the smartphone market, while on iOS and macOS, Google pays Apple an estimated $15 billion per year to be the default search on Safari. Google also pays Mozilla $400 million per year to remain the default on Firefox. Google has a 94 percent share of the Australian search engine market.

Google’s closest search competitor is Microsoft’s Bing, which has something like 2.5 percent market share worldwide. That’s despite being the default search engine on Windows, the world’s second most popular operating system. Google recently told an EU court that “Google” is the #1 search query on Bing, claiming that stat as evidence that users are choosing Google rather than being forced into using it.

Google has already gone through a similar Android unbundling change in the EU, which saw the company add ballot screens for the default search engine and default browser. The EU also shut down some provisions of Google’s standard “Mobile Application Distribution Agreement” (MADA) that OEMs needed to sign in order to license the Google apps. One change means that Google can’t force an “all-or-nothing” bundling of Google’s apps, so if an OEM wants a single app (like, say, the Play Store), it does not have to include every default Google app on its devices.

Android's EU search ballot.
Enlarge / Android’s EU search ballot.

Google

The EU also said that Google can’t restrict OEMs from forking Android. Previously, using the Android codebase in ways Google didn’t approve of would get an OEM kicked out of the Google Play ecosystem. South Korea also took issue with Google’s Android fork restrictions and fined the company $177 million, one of South Korea’s biggest fines ever.

Android’s business model doesn’t charge OEMs directly; instead, it generates revenue for Google through end-user Play Store purchases, Google Search queries, and Google ad impressions. These three areas are such moneymakers that not only can they completely fund Android development, but Google also offers a revenue-share program for Android OEMs, offering incentives like a kickback for each user’s search revenue.

Google’s response to all these changes was to start charging OEMs for Android if they went along with it. In the EU, OEMs can stick with Google’s preferred terms and the old revenue deals, or they can change things up by paying as much as $40 per device and potentially missing out on revenue-sharing deals.

The ACCC’s move isn’t a requirement yet—for now, it’s a potential measure that the regulator will put out for industry consultation in 2022.

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Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W: 5x faster than the original for $5 more

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Enlarge / The Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W.

The diminutive Raspberry Pi Zero is getting its first upgrade in nearly five years. Today, Raspberry Pi founder Eben Upton announced the Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W, a new $15 product that puts the processor from the Raspberry Pi 3 into a board the exact same size as the original Zero.

The new board swaps the old Zero’s 1 GHz single-core ARM11 processor for a quad-core Cortex A53-based Broadcom BCM2710A1 processor, also clocked at 1 GHz—the same processor used in the original Raspberry Pi 3 released back in 2016, albeit clocked slightly lower. This is a substantial increase in power and capability for the Pi Zero, going from one core to four and from 32 bits to 64.

Upton said that the performance increase over the original Zero “varies across workloads” but that for multithreaded tasks like those simulated by sysbench, “it is almost exactly five times faster.” Heat dissipation is provided by “thick internal copper layers” in the board, which should help prevent thermal throttling without the use of additional fans or heatsinks.

The Pi Zero 2 W should fit most cases and other accessories designed for the original model.
Enlarge / The Pi Zero 2 W should fit most cases and other accessories designed for the original model.

But the Pi Zero 2 W is still a low-powered, miniature version of the Pi, which means there’s just not a lot of physical space for other upgrades. The Zero 2 W still uses 512MB of RAM, 2.4 GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi with Bluetooth 4.2, and a single HDMI port along with two micro-USB ports (one for power, one for data) and a microSD card slot. Because it still uses the same Zero form factor, it should fit all existing cases and accessories made for the original Pi Zero.

Upton said that the company hopes to ship about 200,000 Pi Zero 2 W boards in the remainder of 2021 and an additional 250,000 in the first half of 2022. These numbers are being limited somewhat by ongoing chip shortages, which prompted a rare price increase for the flagship Raspberry Pi 4 model earlier this month.

The original Pi Zero W and the Wi-Fi-less Pi Zero will continue to be manufactured and sold for their original prices of $10 and $5, respectively.

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